Monthly Archives: March 2016

Cultural Language in the Classroom: Inclusion as a tool for academic language instruction

1.1 Demonstrating Knowledge of Content and Pedagogy: Teacher recognizes the value of understanding students’ interests and cultural heritage and displays this knowledge for groups of students. Valuing students’ diverse cultural heritages requires valuing students’ diverse language backgrounds. Effective teaching of academic language, in particular, necessitates understanding language backgrounds in a broad sense; it requires familiarity with and respect for diverse conversational or cultural languages. The following selection is from a discussion board post I wrote for Edu 6136, Content Methods, prompted by the question, How do students use academic language to develop their understanding of subject matter?

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In my response, I analyze academic language from two points of view: as an aid to building effective language skill, which is the subject matter of English Language Arts, and as an aid to incorporating diverse cultural languages as an asset in the classroom.

One way to include diverse cultural languages in the classroom is by accessing student’s personal definitions of content specific vocabulary. I will use the term “active listening” as an example. For many students, familiar active listening strategies include direct eye contact with the speaker, paraphrasing the speaker’s words, or asking clarifying questions. For a deaf student in a hearing class, however, active listening might require focusing on both speaker and interpreter, so as to observe the facial and body inflections of each. A student whose cultural background considers direct disagreement disrespectful might define active listening as more deferential, requiring gentle affirmation of understanding rather than questions. A culturally sensitive teacher can include these multiple understandings of active listening by asking students to draw or describe what it looks, feels, or sounds like when someone truly understands what they are trying to say. By building on students’ own experiences, the teacher will also create more wholistic understanding of what active listening means in academic language: those techniques that insure students are prepared to “participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively” (Common Cores State Standards Initiative, 2016).

One way in which I plan on incorporating my understanding of the connection between cultural and academic language in the classroom is by teaching a unit on The Art of Conversation. I am designing the unit now, with a focus on effective techniques for cross-cultural listening and speaking. The unit will incorporate texts from multiple genres, including a written article on communication in the age of the internet, radio broadcasts, Ted Talks, movies, and the students’ own conversations. The texts also represent multiple cultural languages, including academic prose, percussion music, American Sign Language, gossip in a South African village, and the language of leadership. Perhaps most importantly, students will reflect both on what each text claims is necessary for effective communication, and on how their own experiences as readers, viewers, and listeners shapes that understanding.


Common Core State Standards Initiative (2016). College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1 (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1). Retrieved from, March 16, 2016.

O’Neal, D. and Ringler, M. (2010). Broadening Our View of Linguistic Diversity. Kappan, V91N7, pp. 48-52


Volunteer tutors can scaffold student learning: a few tips for integrating tutors in your classroom

“Scaffolding is…a fluid, interpersonal process in which both participants are active participants [and] actively build common understanding.” [1]

Effective scaffolding requires one-on-one interactions, yet few classroom teachers can devote adequate time to individualized assessment and support. Volunteers can provide the help some students need to succeed. To maximize the benefits of volunteer tutors:

Volunteers should commit to a regular schedule.

Tutoring, like teaching, is relational work; relationships require time and trust. A tutor who comes once a week over the course of a semester or year will see their students’ progress and reap the benefits of their own gift of time. Allow tutors a few trial visits before requiring a long-term commitment.

Communicate regularly.

Set aside 15 minutes for monthly tutor check-ins, either by phone or in person. Do you need to intervene with a discipline issue or provide some strategy instruction? Update tutors on upcoming schedule changes and have at least two communication modes (email, phone, text) for last-minute notifications.

Make sure tutors have access to class materials.

Provide texts, worksheets, assignments and rubrics. This allows tutors to prepare ahead of time and align scaffolding with clear goals and expectations.

Create a small community of support among tutors.

Tutors will benefit from each other’s experience and knowledge as well as the camaraderie. Provide a beginning of the year training session. Invite tutors to eat lunch in your classroom. Create a group email just for tutors.

Honor your volunteers with meaningful appreciation.

Validate the results of tutoring by reporting student progress and success. Many volunteers see their own learning as a tangible benefit, so include tutors in workshops or professional development opportunities as appropriate. There is no substitute for a hand-written thank you note, particularly one from a student.

[1] De Pol, J., Volman, M. and Beishussen, J. (2010). Scaffolding in Teacher-Student Interaction: A Decade of Research. Educational Psychology Review, 22, p. 272. doi:10.1007/s10648-010-9127-6